philip lelyveld The world of entertainment technology


Dear Angelica might be the most beautiful virtual reality I’ve ever seen

DA2_2040.0Despite a running time under 15 minutes, Dear Angelica is a fully formed piece created for VR, in VR. It’s directed by former Pixar artist Saschka Unseld, with art from illustrator Wesley Allsbrook, using a drawing tool called Quill that was developed for the project.

Dear Angelica is minimally interactive; the world never waits for your response or forces you to make decisions. But it’s not a static VR film or animation, either. It’s more like being dropped inside a moving painting, where everything feels simultaneously unreal and tangible.


Bittersweet animated narrative short.


A young woman named Jessica (voiced by Mae Whitman) writes letters of reminiscence to her late mother Angelica (Geena Davis), a film star whose many roles — as an astronaut, hardboiled character, fantasy hero, and more — helped define the pair's relationship.


The power of art and fiction — both to shape how we see each other, and to help us process grief.


In parts, Dear Angelica feels like it’s grasping at something VR film in general hasn’t quite reached. For lack of a better term, it mounts a brute force attack on your emotions.


Visually, this experimentation pays off incredibly well. When I say Dear Angelica may be the most beautiful VR I’ve ever seen, that’s hardly hyperbole — partly because we’ve only got a few years of work with which to compare it, and partly because Allsbrook’s three-dimensional illustration is so vibrant.


Dear Angelica is currently available for free through the Oculus Rift’s store.

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Sundance uses virtual reality to explore the future of interactive films

web-1796245“Dear Angelica,” an animated VR short film produced by Oculus Story Studio, is as much a meditation as a movie.

Swirling animations unfold around, above and below a viewer standing suspended in darkness. Neon pink words write themselves in the air, spinning, rising and falling as a woman’s voice reads a letter from a daughter to her recently deceased mother: “I’ve been watching all your movies again. … I miss you.”

Illustrator Wesley Allsbrook worked for seven months wearing a VR headset and drawing the scenes with a digital paintbrush in 360-degree virtual reality. The story takes readers through a whirling montage of memories that viewers can walk, squat and twist to look at from different angles, evoking a dreamlike sense of grief and remembering.

A still from "Dear Angelica" by Saschka Unseld. | Sundance Institute

Like other VR experiences showcased in the Sundance VR palace this year, “Dear Angelica” is short — less than 15 minutes. It gives readers agency to look at the images from different angles and notice different things, but not to manipulate the story.

A new canvas

Wilcox said he could see a future where PBS might create a branching story and allow users more control over how it moves forward. “But I would need to be really thoughtful about that and not make it too much like just a 3D-rendered game environment where they can run around and do goofy stuff,” he said.

“There will be places where you could meet halfway,” Hurst agreed. “But in the end, it’s all about the story. … I don't think that changes with any medium. Good storytelling is good storytelling. You’ve got to be careful and not overplay your hand.”

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Watch: Dundee man cycles across Britain in virtual reality

“I’m hoping my app could become one of those reasons. If we can find the right partner for CycleVR we could launch a consumer version of the app by the end of 2017.

“It’s hugely exciting to think of how popular gaming became with the Nintendo Wii, with families playing together – I think CycleVR could do the same for virtual reality, taking a really simple idea and letting people create their own exercise journeys, from the comfort of their own home.”

Aaron also hopes that CycleVR could become an accessible form of exercise for people with limited mobility, as the Bluetooth cadence monitor can be attached to any indoor bike, including the pedal-only bike ‘pods’ which are used by sitting in a chair.

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IEEE puts out a first draft guide for how tech can achieve ethical AI design

abstract character shattered into pieces

abstract character shattered into pieces

The document, called Ethically Aligned Design, includes a series of detailed recommendations based on the input of more than 100 “thought leaders” working in academia, science, government and corporate sectors, in the fields of AI, law and ethics, philosophy and policy.

The IEEE is hoping it will become a key reference work for AI/AS technologists as autonomous technologies find their way into more and more systems in the coming years. It’s also inviting feedback on the document from interested parties — there’s a Submission Guidelines on The IEEE Global Initiative’s website. It says all comment and input will be made publicly available, and should be sent no later than March 6, 2017.

The issue of AI ethics and accountability has been rising up the social and political agenda this year, fueled in part by high-profile algorithmic failures such as Facebook’s inability to filter out fake news.

The White House has also put out its own reports into AI and R&D. And this fall a U.K. parliamentary committee warned the government of the need to act pro-actively to ensure AI accountability.

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Play Labs, a playful tech accelerator for MIT students and alumni, launches

play-labs-mit-00_0Bayview Labs and Seraph Group, in coordination with the MIT Game Lab, has announced Play Labs, a startup accelerator for MIT students and alumni to launch companies that utilize playful technologies. The first round of projects at Play Labs will run from June through August on the MIT campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The initial batch of projects will be virtual reality and augmented reality technologies and applications, though the incubator will also consider startups using other playful tech, including 3-D modeling, rendering, streaming, gamification, artificial intelligence, and machine vision. Applications of playful technology can be within any industry, including online/mobile/VR gaming, e-sports, entertainment, education, health care, or finance.

Startups that are accepted into Play Labs will each receive an initial investment of $20,000 from the Play Labs Fund in return for common stock. Startups that graduate from the program and meet certain criteria will be eligible for up to $80,000 in additional funding from Play Labs and its investment partners.

The MIT Game Lab, a research group in MIT’s Department of Comparative Media Studies/Writing, and Ludus, the MIT Center for Games, Learning, and Playful Media, will host and conduct the educational program for MIT-related startup companies employing playful technology. Teams will be given workspace on the MIT campus for the duration of the program.

Also participating is VR@MIT, a student organization dedicated to fostering virtual/augmented/mixed reality entrepreneurship at MIT.

During the program, startup teams will be mentored by the executive director, and by faculty and staff from the MIT Game Lab.

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Hue is a dollhouse-like virtual reality experience about depression

17546_2_1100WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

“Hue” is a young writer whose loss of interest in life manifests as a literal lack of color in the world. By nudging and directing him with an Oculus Touch controller, a participant can help him move through a series of vignettes that help him rediscover joy.


A romantic, aestheticized version of anhedonia, which is cured by remembering moments of past happiness with the loving support of those around you, including a giant floating hand that keeps poking you for no reason.


Hue has its art style figured out in a way that many VR experiences don’t. I couldn’t stop leaning in to catch tiny details in its dreamy dollhouse-like sets, and Hue himself is cartoonish enough to skirt the uncanny valley but human enough that you can take him seriously in a semi-realistic narrative.

The New Frontier description, which suggests that you can either be kind or cruel to Hue, and then watch him react, isn’t quite accurate. Instead, there are specific ways to help him, like grabbing his arm and tugging him over to a window.

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For dramatic VR to succeed, music must become the director

Close-Up Of Wavy Piano KeysMusic needs to become an invisible puppet master doing the job film editors and directors used to do.

We are being held back from moving VR storytelling forward by an outdated concept of how we use music in film. We need to work together to look at the stories as music and look at the music as stories.

VR directors working together with interactive music composers and implementors can begin to pull back the veil on what is possible in interactive music design, treating music as the wordless narrator that guides us through virtual worlds and glues the narrative together.

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Lumin brings augmented reality to Detroit Institute of Art

636204755232547495-011817-Lumin-003-rbHere’s how it works: Each DIA phone has Google Tango built in, which provides an augmented reality platform that doesn't need Wi-Fi or GPS. It then uses another platform, GuidiGO's AR Composer. “These technologies are motion-tracking, depth-sensing and area-learning,” said Tango senior product manager Justin Quimby.

As the phone continues to move through the environment, the third and final ingredient — area-learning — comes into play. It uses this to recognize a space it has mapped before and then incorporates the augmented reality content into the real world. Sounds complicated, but the whole process works fast and easy.

When viewing the art through augmented reality, you’ll see it in a way that blends overlays, videos, photographs, sounds and touch-activated animations; each provides contextual information. “Without any words, there’s a tremendous amount of explanation,” said Scott.

At the Babylonian Empire, for example, you’ll see a 3D reconstruction of the Ishtar Gate. It was created by closely studying samples of photographs. By rotating your phone, you can also see it at different angles. But to see more details, you have to walk closer — zooming doesn’t work with augmented reality because it’s a real object.

As augmented reality becomes more integrated into our daily lives, new user behaviors will have to be learned. 

There’s also the question of what will happen if too much technology is brought into the art world.

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BMW-i pilots augmented reality visualizer

• BMW-i is the first automotive brand in the world to offer customers an interactive, 3-D augmented reality experience of their products in a pilot program which is being rolled-out.
Using Tango, Google’s smartphone augmented reality technology, customers can explore their ideal BMW i3 or i8, as a real-size, interactive visualization.

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Could augmented reality be used to treat colour blindness? Magic Leap thinks so

20458-99446b0a82ce6334e9295fd53947a0a4Sensors will allegedly allow Magic Leap's technology to pick up what deficiencies are present, then amplify the light in order to apply a filter to avoid colour overlapping. 

Alongside treatment for colour blindness, Magic Leap also briefly hinted at diagnosing and adjusting for other eye conditions, such as myopia, astigmatism and hyperopia. Just think, you'll never need to update your glasses to match that regressing prescription ever again.

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